Labyrinths have taken on deep meaning in my life over the years. The first labyrinth I ever walked was one I constructed in the field next to our friend Peg’s cabin house. We had rope and a paper printed with the labyrinth image, which we traced with rope into the freshly mown grass. Later that night, during the full moon, we would walk the labyrinth from oldest to youngest…the youngest being my daughter who, just shy of her first birthday, would ride in a carrier on my back around our journey to the center and back. That was the night of her Christening to the Universe, where we would say blessings and splash holy water (which Peg had brought back from her recent trip to Ireland) onto each other with laughter and gratitude for life and love and birth. The labyrinth has taken on deep and special meaning since that night, and now I often seek out a labyrinth during my travels, and during times of contemplation.
Today, I took off my shoes and proceeded into the conference great room in silence. My colleagues in PLIDA take great care in planning our biennial conference to be filled with cutting edge research, best practice information, policy and advocacy awareness and, unlike many conferences, self-care and contemplative remembrance of what draws us to our work. Every person at this conference provides care and support to grieving families…through direct bereavement support, hospital nursing and medical care, grief counseling, pastoral care, research, writing, art and music therapy, program administration, doula companioning, or other venues of being present and supportive in the lives of those who experience the unexpected loss of a pregnancy or the death of a baby. This is emotional work many people do not wish to discuss or acknowledge. But, we walk this path each day of our professional lives. For many people in the room, we have walked this path in our personal lives as well.
Our commemoration today found us in a banquet room where the tables had been removed. Spread across the floor, surrounded by a circle of chairs, was a 36 foot canvas labyrinth. A tree made of bare branches stood in the center, next to a small table with a prayer bowl chime. The group was invited, one by one, to enter the labyrinth carrying a colorful ribbon which symbolized an intention, a memory, a person, or an experience. Once in the center, we were to place it on a tree branch and when ready, sound the prayer bowl chime as a presentation of our intention within the center of the group.
I carried “vocation” with me, laying a bright green ribbon across my fingertips as I walked.
As I walked the labyrinth journey today, I became deeply aware of and grateful for those who walked with me. There were many more people walking this labyrinth together than one usually experiences. At times, we stepped aside to allow someone to pass alongside us, or they did the same for us. We slowed down when needed, or paused to reflect and give another person space. Occasionally, a ribbon would fall and someone would pick it up lightly and return it to its owner. Some passed each other almost unknowingly as we focused on the path of our individual journeys. Others met my eye and we would softly smile in awareness and acknowledgement of each other.
In silence we moved, and I watched those who passed me with great admiration and respect. Even when my journey was complete…my color added to the tree, my intention announced in the gentle and resounding ring of the prayer bowl…I watched in contemplative wonder those who walked their own paths after me. I was taken in by those who stepped with the lightness and intentionality of a dancer, and those who felt unsure of their steps. Some ribbons were worn across their bodies, resting lovingly in their hands, or clutched tightly. Everyone moved in silence, only the haunting sound of a flutist drifting through the room. The barren tree began to fill with color. The intention, passion, emotion, and dedication of those sharing the sacred space with me was palpable. It was a sacred dance, in a sacred space.
Walking this journey of vocation for me is interwoven with gratitude for those who share the path with me. I have, and continue to, meet amazing people who are as different and diverse from each other as one can imagine. And yet, we share something in common. We do what we do, we study what we study, we counsel and care and interview and support others when grief shakes the foundation of their lives and assumptive worlds. We do not walk for them, but do walk with them. We cry and we laugh and we grow, all of us. There is a shared recognition of humanness, and a shared respect for the power of the journey on which we each travel and in which we all share.
Gratitude for the journey, and for those who journey with me.